Since the trending hashtag “strong not skinny,” women have been focusing on what their bodies can do rather than simply how they look. If you want to build muscle but stay lean, you can use a combination of diet and exercise to tone your physique and keep gaining muscle over time, but you need to follow a proper regime in order to see results.
There are several pitfalls women come up against when they try to build muscle. The first is that women don’t have the same muscle tissue or testosterone levels as men, so getting strong can be tricky. However, by balancing hormone levels, diet and strength-training exercises, you can become stronger and healthier.
8 Tips for Women to Build Muscle & Strength
As a woman, lean muscle can give you shape and help you get fit, but how long does it take to build and what’s the best regime to follow? Here are some tips to help you on your fitness journey.
#1. Fuel up
However tempting it might be to skip meals when you’re trying to lose fat and build muscle, skipping meals will only make you hungrier, which will cause your body to burn muscle as well as fat. A good rule of thumb is to consume something with carbs, protein and healthy fats about one and a half hours before you exercise, then refuel with a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio snack about 30 minutes after your workout. Of course, different people metabolize nutrients at different rates, so you may wish to experiment with the foods that work best for you.
#2. Do Strength Training
Exercise holds enormous benefits for all of us, but when you’re trying to build muscle, it’s all about the type of activity you do rather than how long you spend on the treadmill. As well as lifting weights and practicing resistance training, you should also aim for 1–3 days of HIIT training (high-intensity interval training) per week. Whenever you exercise, try hard to engage your core. Think about drawing your ribs down and belly button in. You should feel a notable contraction through your core during all exercise, especially while lifting weights.
#3. Build Your Exercises Over Time
Building your exercises over time will stimulate muscle growth and help you mentally adapt to your regime. Challenge yourself with a variety of bodyweight exercises and add additional resistance training every few weeks. When practicing HIIT, start with only 5 minutes and work towards 30-minute bouts of intervals to build your endurance.
#4. Eat Plenty of Protein
Diet is incredibly important when you’re trying to build muscle, and not eating enough calories is the main reason why most women struggle. You should aim for a slight surplus of calories and make sure you consume enough protein to increase lean muscle mass. The best way to figure out how much you should be eating is to work out your maintenance calories and add 10-15%. You should also aim to eat 27g of protein per pound of body weight. Good sources of protein include eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, lean meat and poultry. You can also up your protein intake with weight loss shakes, as long as you keep your calories within range.
#5. Understand Hormonal Impact
Women have a lower starting point when it comes to building muscle mass because of the levels of estrogen in their bodies. Therefore you will need to optimize your hormone levels if you want to build muscle. You can optimize your hormones naturally by sleeping well and following a healthy diet, as well as engaging in intense workouts.
Workouts like HIIT stimulate the body to produce more growth hormones and burn fat. Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase growth hormones by a whopping 1300% in women during a 24-hour period, but you must make sure you make up for this dip in calories on your non-fasting days.
#6. Stock up on Vegetables
Vegetables contain all sorts of nutrients that are vital to our health and well-being, and they are a great natural source of protein. If your aim is to become lean and build muscle, try to go above and beyond your five-a-day and maximize your intake of protein-rich vegetables. Spinach, kale and broccoli are particularly high in protein, as well as mushrooms, artichokes and Brussels sprouts.
#7. Have a Specific Goal in Mind
What area are you trying to strengthen? Set a rate of muscle growth per month and track your progress, as this will help you stay on track. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’d like to build muscle,” make it more specific. A goal of adding 10 pounds of muscle and 1 inch in your flexed upper arm would be a good example of a specificgoal.
If your goal isn’t measurable, you’ll struggle to set and follow a plan, and you may become disheartened by the results. Remember: your goal has to be attainable based on your body’s physiological boundaries. Building muscle takes time, so any program that promises a natural increase of 15 pounds of muscle in 6 or 8 weeks is a fad and should be avoided.
#8. Maintain Mental Focus
The mind and the body are connected, so the way you think about your muscle-building regime will impact your results. You can maintain focus by creating a pre-workout routine consisting of breathing practice and visualizing your goals.
Before you start your workout, think about you’re going to do, and picture yourself with your goal body. Sports psychologists believe conjuring up mental imagery can help ramp up your central nervous system so that you’re more prepared for a workout, which can also help maximize your performance. When you start feeling tired, it’s easy to get distracted and allow your performance to dip. However, this is the time when your workouts are most effective, so it’s important to stay in touch with your goals.
The Bottom Line
If you follow these steps, you should start to see results in a matter of months. Your actual lean tissue growth should be somewhere around 1 pound per month, or 15 pounds of muscle over the course of a year.